Chief Executive Carrie Lam has rejected criticism over plans to press ahead with the second reading of a controversial national anthem bill, saying it was in accordance with legislative procedures.
At a press briefing before the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said it was entirely incorrect to say the government was pushing for the bill to be passed urgently. The proposed law – which seeks to criminalise “misuse” and distortion of March of the Volunteers – is set to resume its Second Reading debate in the Legislative Council next Wednesday.
Lam said the bills committee finished scrutinising the national anthem bill last May, and the proposed law would be given priority amidst a backlog of legislative business.
She added seven months had been wasted while the House Committee struggled to elect a new chair, whom the government would consult about the date of tabling the bill to the full council.
“Because this is the first priority bill in terms of chronology of events, so there isn’t even a subjective assessment,” she said. “I don’t understand why for doing such a proper thing, the administration is to apologise.”
Pro-Beijing leader of the DAB party Starry Lee was elected chair of the House Committee on Monday. Chaotic scenes broke out beforehand, with presiding member Chan Kin-por ejected democrats for protesting while the remaining few abstained from voting.
If the national anthem bill is passed, anyone found guilty could face a fine of up to HK$50,000 and three years in prison. Critics have said the proposed law threatens to erode freedom of expression in the city.
At the morning media briefing, HKFP asked the chief executive about criticism of the government’s stance on the controversial bill and accusations of selective law enforcement of public gathering restrictions.
She rejected the reporter’s choice of words, saying the questions were “biased and prejudiced.” She added the purpose of her weekly press conferences was to provide a more “comprehensive” response to media questions and that she attached “great importance” to the work of the press.
“One of my priorities since taking office is to facilitate the work of reporters, including welcoming Hong Kong Free Press, which I understand is online news only, to join this sort of gathering,” she said.
Lam also responded to questions about developments on legislating Article 23 of the Basic Law – a constitutional requirement that would allow the government to enact national security laws.
The city’s leader said there have been “close to terrorist incidents” in Hong Kong over the past year; therefore, it was “understandable” that the law had reentered public conversation.
“It has been almost 23 years since the handover and [the passing of Article 23] is still not achieved, which is disappointing,” she said, adding that she had no further comments on the matter for the time being.
A 2003 attempt to legislate Article 23 failed after an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets in protest. The government has always had enough votes to pass the law but has put it on hold due to backlash.